Barking Up the Wrong Olive Branch

All posturing aside, and despite numerous mixed messages, the US and perhaps even Israeli governments are beginning to admit in murmur what has been a starkly obvious reality for some time now: Whether they like it or not, it is improbable that this Intifada will be brought to a close until after substantial conclusions are reached at the negotiating table.

Throughout history, parties at war have negotiated cease-fires and truces while battles raged on. This case will be no different. The party which has given up almost everything it would be entitled to in a fair world has once and for all lost faith in the empty promises of the tireless aggressor constantly demanding more. There will be no peace until there are reasonable guarantees of an acceptable future for Palestinians, those with homes in historic Palestine as well as those clustered in refugee camps or dispersed throughout the world. Fed up with the exploitation, indignity, repression and sheer brutality which accompany Israeli occupation, Palestinians are no longer willing to settle for fuzzy pledges of military withdrawal and a vague, piecemeal independence process.

The thrust of this commentary is not to conclusively present the Palestinian case or argue why Palestinians’ long-term demands must be met, per se. Instead, I wish to argue that, this time around, those demands must be met before the uprising will settle down (or be successfully suppressed). But in order to understand why this Intifada will carry on until Palestinian grievances are satisfactorily addressed, one must comprehend the sheer imbalance and inconsistency between grievances presented by Palestinians and those presented by Israelis. There is a remarkable constancy among the chief Palestinian complaints, and an undeniable specificity to those of Israelis. That is, even during times of cease-fire, Palestinian grievances persist, while Israeli complaints virtually evaporate. (For our purposes we’ll focus exclusively on grievances acknowledged as valid by most of the world, not those popular among Jews or Arabs alone.)

Palestinian concerns include (but are by no means limited to) the forced expulsion of some 3 million refugees from their homes in what is now Israel “proper,” or in settled lands of the Occupied Territories; constant military occupation/intimidation of most of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967; effective denial of statehood rights to all Palestinian Arabs, and citizenship of any kind to most; dramatic economic exploitation, market domination and effective embargo; a policy of arrest and torture of people called “suspected militants”; the wonton, indiscriminate destructions of homes, crops and orchards; roadway checkpoints which prevent freedom of movement (as in movement between home and workplace), and have at times virtually eliminated provision of adequate health care, leading to numerous preventible deaths.

In addition to these and other oppressions which may persist despite cease-fire agreements, Palestinians present an endless list of war-related grievances. These include the sloppy assassinations of Palestinian Authority and militia officers (preferring the use of indiscriminate explosives to snipers); the shelling and bombing of entire neighborhoods; IDF raids which regularly result in “unintended” arrests and killings; and the use of live ammunition and other excessive means to suppress nonviolent and minimally violent demonstrations. Again, the list goes on and on – but it’s noteworthy that every item presented above indicates an actual, explicit policy of the “democratic” Israeli government. I have left off these lists the actions of Israeli paramilitaries and settler mobs – who perhaps parallel the Palestinian militias like Hamas and Fatah.

Meanwhile, the list of Israeli grievances looks like this: violent attacks on Israeli civilians and military outposts by Palestinian extremists and militants. End of list.

These attacks are not constant; they occur sporadically during times of greatest strife. When they are aimed at military targets in Palestinian-controlled territory, they are simple self-defense. Evidence that most or really many of them are managed by the Palestinian Authority is weak and fleeting, at best – PA policy explicitly condemns such attacks.

And therein lies the incontrovertible reason why the Palestinians believe they must (and will) continue their Intifada until Israel finally yields to their demands. Even during periods of mutually observed cease-fires – such as most of the 1990s – Palestinians’ constant grievances have gone unanswered. In the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a cease-fire does not refer to a mutual peace – instead, it means a pause in Israeli suffering, but merely a reduction in the much greater Palestinian suffering. Even if Israel were to remove its “Defense Forces” from the Territories altogether, Arab suffering would continue, as always.

Under cease-fire without a complete, enforced treaty arrangement, Palestinians are denied a country and a capital. Settlements continue to encroach on Palestinian land. Refugees remain without permanent homes or even adequate dwellings. Palestinian businesses remain under the discretion of Israeli commerce authorities. And so on and so forth. While life goes on in Israel during a truce, and Israelis begin to forget about their country’s illegal and despicable domination of Palestinian land, life and livelihood, for Palestinians life remains pure struggle. Israel shall not be afforded the luxury of negotiating under a cease-fire, quite simply because it is a luxury!

The reason no steps toward peace has so far been successful in the past 18 months is simple: each attempt has promised to solve Israeli concerns while only addressing the most urgent and extreme Palestinian concerns (stopping Israeli military assaults). Palestinians have not forgotten the 1990s. Though hopeful times, for Arabs in Palestine they were by no means joyous or free. Because Israeli and American promises of eventual autonomy, fair refugee management, and so forth were given no authentic time-lines, and included no provisions for enforcement, they should not have been (and in retrospect deserved not to be) taken seriously.

As Israelis regularly point out, the crowning achievement of the Oslo process was the effective arming of a tiny force of Palestinians who now have rifles and mortars where they once had but stones and slings. But since the demand for arms was never high among Palestinian long-term interests, the anti-Arab assertion that Oslo was merely an arming process for Palestinian factions exposes the truth of Oslo: no significant long term demands were ever met by Israel. To expect Palestinians to call off the Intifada short of real guarantees of national liberation is to sell the Palestinian people out wholesale!

What would be promising, all must agree, would be an increase in the viability of, and thus Palestinian interest in, nonviolent forms of militant resistance which could be maintained during periods of negotiation. Such a show of good faith toward Israel would go a long way to assuaging urgent Israeli concerns for “security,” if it could be enacted without relenting the overall pressure against Israel to grant concessions to Arab demands. An intifada by any other means than outright violent resistance would of course be preferred, if realistic.

Unfortunately, such nonviolent pressure may have to remain the priority of the rest of the world (and hopefully an increasing priority, at that!). Israelis have demonstrated little willingness to negotiate while not being terrorized, and have also proven themselves fully willing to ignore Palestinians so long as only young Jewish soldiers are threatened by hurled stones, with Israeli civilians and settlers free to go about their daily business without care. If we want to see an end to suicide attacks, we must demand Israel present the circumstances for peace, rather than insist Palestinians switch from active resistance to blind hope.

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